TEHRAN: Iran sought Sunday to calm hard-line worries over groundbreaking exchanges with Washington, saying a single phone conversation between the U.S. and Iranian presidents was not a sign that ties would be quickly restored.
The comments by Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi appeared tailored to address Iranian factions, including the powerful Revolutionary Guard, which have grown uneasy over the fast-paced outreach last week between the White House and President Hassan Rouhani which was capped by a 15-minute call with President Barack Obama.
“Definitely, a history of high tensions between Tehran and Washington will not go back to normal relations due to a phone call, meeting or negotiation,” Araghchi was quoted by the semi-official Fars news agency as saying.
Rouhani seeks to restart stalled talks over its nuclear program in the hopes of easing U.S.-led sanctions. Iran, however, has not clarified what concessions it is willing to make with its nuclear program in exchange.
Araghchi also reiterated statements by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who said he no longer opposes direct talks with Washington but is not optimistic about the potential outcome.
Khamenei appears to have given Rouhani authority to handle the nuclear talks with world powers, scheduled to resume in Geneva in two weeks, and seek possible broader contacts with the Obama administration.
“We never trust America 100 percent,” Araghchi said. “And, in the future, we will remain on the same path. We will never trust them 100 percent.”
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, however, struck a more conciliatorytone speaking to a U.S. audience on ABC’s “The Week.”
Zarif said he could see a “real chance” for agreement with the United States and that Iran was willing to open its nuclear facilities to international inspections but the economic sanctions must end as part of any deal on its nuclear program.
The divisions over Rouhani’s overtures were on display Saturday when he returned from New York.
Supporters welcomed him with cheers, but a smaller pocket of protesters shouted insults. One protester hurled a shoe at Rouhani, but the footwear missed.
Hard-line lawmaker Hamid Rasaei criticized the phone call as “breaking the resistance brand” of Iran – a reference to the self-promoted idea that the Israeli Republic was the anchor for opposition to Israel and Western influence in the region.
He said acceptance of Obama’s phone call by Rouhani was “undignified” and allowed the U.S. to claim Iran seeks to modify its policies.
“You converted a win-lose game to a win-win one” for the U.S., he said during a parliament session Sunday.
Another conservative lawmaker, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the influential parliamentary committee, interpreted the phone call in a positive way as Rouhani trying to help the “failing reputation” of Obama.
The core of the opposition to Rouhani appears built around supporters of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who once sent a letter to then President George W. Bush in an attempt to open dialogue. Ahmadinejad apparently was rebuffed by Bush, and the former president later fell from favor with Khamenei after trying to challenge his authority.
Israel’s prime minister also slammed Rouhani’s overtures to Obama Sunday, as he headed to the United States to address the U.N. General Assembly.
Benjamin Netanyahu said Rouhani was a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” whose talk of allaying Western concerns about Iran’s nuclear program was a “confidence trick” and has called on the Jewish state’s U.S. ally not to be fooled.
“I intend to tell the truth in the face of the sweet talk and charm offensive of Iran,” public radio quoted Netanyahu as saying before boarding a plane for Washington.
He will tell Obama in a private meeting Monday that Israel will abandon the diplomatic path on Iran’s nuclear program if it is not completely dismantled, according to the diplomatic correspondent of Israel’s Channel One television network.
The implication was that Israel may be willing to take unilateral military action against Iran, the reporter said.
Netanyahu is due to address the U.N. General Assembly Tuesday, the same forum where last year he used a cartoon bomb as a prop to underline how close he believed Iran was to being able to build one.